EWING TOWNSHIP — All a young Ocean City High School field hockey team needed to do was believe in itself.
The Red Raiders — who returned just three starters — won the state Group III championship with a 2-0 win over Warren Hills at the College of New Jersey on Sunday afternoon.
Sophomore Lauren McNally and freshman Jordan Allegretto scored for Ocean City.
The win gave the Red Raiders (21-1), No. 3 in The Press Elite 11 rankings, their eighth field hockey state championship but their first since 2009 and their first under coach Cory Terry.
“It all came down to these girls believing in themselves,” Terry said. “They improved every single time they stepped on the field. At the end of the season, they realized they could do this.”
Ocean City controlled possession behind the stick handling of senior Jacquie Fenton for most of Sunday’s game.
Warren Hills’ best chance to score came two minutes into the game when Ocean City — perhaps because of its youth —appeared jittery.
Niki Miller and Sydney Muntone had back-to-back chances in front of the Ocean City cage, but Red Raiders goalie Katie Johnson stopped them both.
Ocean City then settled down and had the better of the play. The Red Raiders had 14 corners to just three for Warren Hills (22-3).
But the score remained 0-0 for nearly 45 minutes of the 60-minute contest.
McNally finally broke the tie with 15 minutes, 53 seconds left in the game.
McNally showed why her teammates nicknamed her shot “the bullet.” She received a pass on a corner from Casey Hanna. McNally slapped the ball at Warren Hills goalie Katie Wintersteen, who made a pad save.
“It wasn’t my strongest hit,” McNally said.” But I have to give (the goalie) credit.”
The ball bounced off the goalie’s pads and right back to McNally.
“I saw that ball bouncing back at me,” she said. “We all wanted it so much. I just tried to get it in the goal.”
McNally blasted the ball from seven yards out into the cage to give the Red Raiders a 1-0 lead.
“I just put my head down and hit it as hard as I could,” she said.
Ocean City’s second goal came with 9:37 left. Allegretto scored from 4 yards in front of the cage off a cross pass from April Stein, who had weaved her way through a couple of Warren Hills defenders.
O.C. then waited for the final minutes to tick off the clock. Warren Hills never had a serious scoring chance in the final minutes.
The Red Raiders rushed the field when the game ended. They posed for a picture with the championship trophy.
“That’s the picture we’ve been waiting to take,” an Ocean City fan shouted.
Few local programs in any sport are more successful than the Ocean City field hockey team. Former coach Trish LeFever built the Red Raiders into a power by winning seven state titles between 1997-2009. The success builds on itself as players are exposed to the winning tradition. Fenton served as a freshman ball girl when Ocean City won its last state title with a 2-1 overtime win over Warren Hills in 2009.
“This means everything and more,” Fenton said of Sunday’s win. “My teammates are like my sisters, so winning this is like wining it with my family.”
Terry is a big part of Ocean City’s winning tradition. She became the head coach after LeFever retired in 2010. Terry — then Cory Picketts — played for Ocean City teams that won state titles in 1997, 1998 and 1999.
Terry saw these Red Raiders gain confidence as the season wore on. They did not allow a goal to a Cape-Atlantic Lea-gue team all season.
Terry compared herself to a proud parent watching the Red Raiders play Sunday.
She wanted them to experience what she had as a player and know what it feels like to be a state champion.
Now the Red Raiders do.
Contact Michael McGarry:
Warren Hills 0 0 —0
Ocean City 0 2—2
Goals—McNally, Allegretto OC
Goalies—Wintersteen (8 saves) WH; Johnson (3 saves) OC
Records— Warren Hills 22-3; Ocean City 21-1